What Is the Green Card Process?

The green card process is a series of steps taken to earn a green card. A green card gives the holder permanent residence in the United States. 

What Are the Benefits of a Green Card?

A green card holder can stay in America as long as they want. This card doesn't have any of the rules that prevent other forms of visa holders from forming bonds in the country. A green card holder can:

  • Purchase a home in the United States
  • Own any other kind of property
  • Have full rights and legal protections in America's legal system
  • Sponsor family members to get their own green cards
  • Go to school and earn a degree
  • Work at an American company without the need to get a work visa
  • Start and run a business
  • Leave the country to travel when they want and still get to return when they're finished

While a green card holder has many of the benefits of American citizenship already, this card has an added benefit. The person can apply for full American citizenship after five years of green card possession.

How Is a Green Card Different From Citizenship?

While a green card holder enjoys many of the same benefits as citizens, some drawbacks exist. A green card:

  • Has an end date, usually 10 years from the authorization date
  • Doesn't provide full benefits of citizenship
  • Requires the green card holder to honor all the rules of the green card as long as they live in America
  • Forces the applicant to pay federal taxes as long as they live in the United States
  • Requires the person to spend at least one day in America each year

Failure to honor any of these terms will cause the government to take away a green card. American citizenship is permanent.

How Can Someone Earn a Green Card?

A person who wants a green card has several options.

  • A family member who is already a citizen or who owns a green card can help a person get their own
  • Marriage
  • Green card lottery
  • Green card business sponsorship

The green card lottery takes place each year. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program gives away up to 50,000 green cards each year. Most of the people who win the green card lottery aren't currently living in the United States. Only people from certain countries are eligible, though. The government targets countries with poor immigration rates.

How Does a Business Sponsorship Green Card Work?

An applicant from a foreign country can apply for work in the United States. They need a company's sponsorship to get a green card.

This type of visa is in high demand since it's mutually beneficial to the business and employee. The corporation adds a quality worker. The applicant gets a new job in a new country and a green card that makes them a permanent resident.

The government divides corporate sponsorships into the following categories:

  • EB-1 Priority Workers – Workers in this category are so accomplished that they're recognized as experts in their field. These applicants enjoy international renown.
  • EB-2 Professionals With Exceptional Ability – These employees have advanced degrees in their field or have plenty of experience and personal honors.
  • EB-3 Skilled Professionals – These workers have university degrees in their field or at least two years of job experience.
  • EB-4 Special Immigrants – This category includes faith-based employees, current or former employees of the U.S. government's overseas offices, or official translators for the American military.
  • EB-5 Investors – These applicants have investments that will create jobs in the United States.

Choosing the correct category is important. The EB-5 category is primarily for those with a high income, as the minimum investment is $1 million. The EB-1 category is for celebrities and superstars of a profession. Most people will fit into the categories of EB-2, EB-3, and EB-4, especially technical workers.

The company should decide which category is right for the job title and the worker. The business will send a labor certification for the employee.

The government will need proof that the worker satisfies the criteria of the category. That's why accurate categorization is important. Filing under the wrong one will lead to a rejected application. That's a waste of months, maybe even years. The company is likely to move on to other employees after a rejected green card application.

Business-sponsored green cards are very popular. The government gives out a maximum of 140,000 of them each year. Federal rules state that a single country can receive a maximum of 7 percent of that total.

H-1B visa holders have a limit of six years of residence in the United States. After six years, they do have the option to apply for permanent residency via a green card.

An employee with an H-1B visa can upgrade to green card status. Their sponsoring employer is the only one who can request the upgrade, though. H-1B visa holders with employee sponsors can then go through a process where they change their status from visa holder to permanent resident. 

What Is the Process for an H-1B Visa Holder to Apply for a Green Card?

Request PERM Labor Certification - Program electronic review management certification is necessary to change an H-1B visa into a green card. It's also a requirement for employees with E-B2 and E-B3 visas.

The Department of Labor (DOL) will provide the PERM certificate. With it in hand, the H-1B employee's company can now request a green card on their behalf.

Getting the certification involves three steps:

  • Prevailing Wage Determination — The employer describes the applicant's job duties, job location, and job requirements. The DOL gives the employer a calculation that becomes the estimated salary for the job. 
  • Recruitment — In this step, the employer verifies that no available American workers can fill the open position. They'll post a job in at least five places. Two of them must be in newspapers with Sunday editions. In rural areas without such newspapers, an employer must choose the paper with the largest circulation. Should no qualified candidate apply, the green card applicant becomes the best person for the job. 
  • ETA Form 9089 — This step is the easiest one. The employer fills out this form, the official Application for Employment Certification, with the DOL. The employer can file it either digitally or via snail mail. 

Form 9089 requires the following information:

  • Prevailing wage with tracking number if applicable
  • Job skill level
  • Job title
  • Wage source
  • Determination date
  • Expiration date
  • Job wage
  • Occupation code

Apply for Permanent Residency — With Form 9089 approved, the employer moves on to Form I-140. This is the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. This form proves the applicant is worthy of an immigrant visa through the employer. It also shows the company can afford to pay the worker the Prevailing Wage Determination.

Adjustment of Status — During this step, the applicant is in the final stage of a switch from H-1B to green card. An employer can fill out this form, Form I-485, at the same time as Form I-140 in what is known as a concurrent filing. That will speed up the process.

Form I-485 is Adjustment of Status or Application to Register Permanent Residence. This form verifies that the applicant wants to live as a permanent resident. To save time, the employee should also apply for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and Advance Parole. 

Wait Until Priority Date — Some visas have annual limits. In these instances, you must wait until your priority date. It's the day when you come off the waiting list and are eligible for a green card.

Some priority dates are years away. Your wait time depends on your country of origin and your category. Statistics suggest that spouses and unmarried children wait five years on average. Siblings of United States citizens may wait as long as 20 years.

The State Department releases a Visa Bulletin. It shows priority dates that are now current. You can use it as a guideline to estimate your current wait for a green card.

When your priority date arrives, you can finally file for a green card. Again, you should expect a delay of weeks, possibly months.

You will apply at the American Consulate or Embassy in your country or at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office closest to you. After a time, the government will schedule an interview.

Generally, you'll receive either green card approval or denial during the meeting, although delays are possible due to security checks or lack of documentation.

The proof of approval of Form I-485 is a stamp on the employee's passport. Later, they will receive an actual green card, showing that their status is now green card holder rather than H-1B.

Does an Applicant Need Qualifications for a Business-Sponsored Green Card?

Another reason immigrants prefer the business-sponsored green card is that it's not as restrictive as many visas. The applicant doesn't need to:

  • Live in the United States at the time of the green card application
  • Live in the United States at the time of approval of the green card
  • Have a college degree
  • Already work for the company sponsoring the application

Also, the application process is free for the applicant. The business pays all the associated green card fees. Most sponsors also pay for the relocation fee of the applicant. For someone moving to a new country, that's thousands of dollars in savings.

How Does a Family Sponsorship Green Card Work?

The sponsor must meet a few criteria to help their family member earn a green card. They must:

  • Prove their legal American residency or citizenship
  • Prove they are a family member who qualifies as a sponsor
  • Prove they can cover the cost of living of the applicant at least 125 percent over the poverty line
  • Show willingness to act as a sponsor

The government has strict rules about which family members qualify. The applicant's relationship must qualify as one of the following:

  • Unmarried child under the age of 21
  • Unmarried child over the age of 21
  • Married child of any age
  • Sibling, as long as the sponsor is 21 or older
  • Parent, as long as the sponsor is 21 or older
  • Spouse

The rules are the same for these relationships except for spouses. A special family member category could also lead to a green card. The government can grant a green card to:

  • Battered spouses and children
  • Children of foreign diplomats living in the United States
  • Spouses of deceased American citizens
  • Refugees or immigrants in need of political asylum
  • K nonimmigrants
  • V nonimmigrants

All of these special class applications are subject to the discretion of government employees.

How Does a Green Card Marriage Work?

The most famous way to get a green card is through marriage. A person who marries an American citizen or permanent resident is eligible for a green card.

The application via family sponsorship works differently when someone claims spouse status, though. Since many people abuse the process, government officials need proof of a real relationship.

To apply for a green card through marriage, the applicant must:

  • Prove that their marriage is legal via documentation such as a marriage license
  • Prove that neither spouse is married to someone else
  • Prove that the married spouses are a real couple and not pretending for a green card
  • Prove that the couple isn't participating in a mail-order spouse scam
  • Prove that one party is a legal resident and the other is eligible for a green card

Proof of a real relationship is the difficult step. Government officials will set up at least one interview with both parties. Should the federal employee suspect fraud, they'll research the matter more and set up more interviews.

Green card marriage abuse is a serious crime. Someone found guilty of it faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

How Does the Green Card Application Process Work?

An applicant or sponsor files form I-130 for a family based green card or form I-140 for a business-based green card. The government calls this process an immigrant petition.

An approved application heads to the National Visa Center. The system there will give the applicant an immigrant visa number. Someone already living in the United States is finished. With the immigrant visa number in hand, they're considered a permanent resident.

An applicant from outside the United States has an added step. They must apply for an immigrant visa at the American consulate or embassy in their country. Once they have it, they can move to America as a permanent resident.

The green card application process is slow. Applicants may wait years for a green card.

What Happens After You Receive the Green Card?

You are not guaranteed to keep a green card. The government has many requirements. You will also face restrictions about things you are not allowed to do as a resident of the United States. Anyone who does not comply risks losing their green card status. Deportation is also possible.

You should also know that if you leave the country for an extended period, you will need to apply for a re-entry permit.

The best strategy to avoid delays in the green card process is to hire an attorney. Post your legal need for a reliable professional from the UpCounsel marketplace and find tips on improving your odds at getting a green card. Follow their advice to maximize your chance at becoming a permanent resident of the United States.